This morning at the breakfast table, my wife, Betsy, looked up from the newspaper and spoke the troubling words, “Neil Steinberg wrote a great column today.”
Grudgingly, I took a look. Well, OK, it was a piece aimed right at the spot where she and I are as vulnerable as the underside of a turtle. Steinberg’s older son is 18, a high school senior. He’s a good kid. But he’s got one foot out the door. “How do I feel? Proud. Lucky,” writes Steinberg. He’s too adroit a writer to wring out the washcloth, but it’s clear his feelings are a lot more complicated than that.
My regret was that the day before, at the breakfast table, I hadn’t said to Betsy, “John Kass wrote a great column today.” He wrote essentially the same column Steinberg did. Steinberg set his at home, his son sitting at the table filling out college forms. Kass set his at the soccer field.
Parents usually sit together in a group, perched on those canvas stadium chairs that make those cold, hard bleachers a bit more comfortable. Chatting, latte in hand, a video camera bag over a shoulder, we know each other, we know the drill. We’ve been at this for years. And for most of us, there are other seasons to come.
But for those who have seniors out there on the fields, it’s different. It’s ending. And we’re trying to hold it, or hoard it, and keep it.
Our daughters are in their 30s now, but the feeling doesn’t go away. The first grandchild—ours is less than two weeks old—makes it all the stronger. This little bundle of helpless, trusting innocence is how all children start out, and the process of growth, self-assertion, and distancing is relentless and remorseless. Still, it’s my daughter’s daughter I’m holding now, so she hasn’t gone all that far.